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Dr Helen Waterhouse

Helen Waterhouse photo

Profile summary

Professional biography

Like many OU students I arrived at university as a mature student many years after an unsatisfactory, unmotivated and unsuccessful experience at school. My intention was to become a primary school teacher but I stumbled instead into Religious Studies. Reluctant to leave with my BA in Religious Studies and Sociology, I stayed on at what is now known as Bath Spa University to complete a PhD, in the Study of Religions Department.

Research interests

My PhD research was about the practice of Buddhism in Britain and I am still interested in this topic. Over the last few years this interest has been concentrated on one of the most successful of the Buddhist groups operating in Britain (and, indeed, all over the world). This is the Soka Gakkai, a movement which began in Japan in the twentieth century but is based on the teachings of Nichiren, a radical thirteenth century Japanese priest. The Soka Gakkai today combines humanitarian activism with structured religious practice carried out in a language that even most Japanese practitioners cannot understand. It is partly this that makes it interesting as an example of twenty-first century religion. I am working on a book about SGI in the UK which is based on the liturgy of this movement. It will examine the role of prayer in Soka Gakkai and set that within the context of research on prayer more broadly. The book will consider what Soka Gakkai children pray for and the daily prayer for the dead thereby incorporating recent fieldwork on second generation members in the UK and touching on another of my research interests, contemporary beliefs about death and the after-life.

I also have a developing interest in the relationship between religious practice such as the daily practice of Soka Gakkai members and practice for the development of skills such as chess or playing the piano. This interest is nurtured by contact with Open University academics in the Arts and Science Faculties.

Outside the OU, I am co-editor, with Dominic Corrywright (Oxford Brookes University), of the Bulletin of the British Association for the Study of Religions and a member of the British Sociological Association Religion Study Group and of the UK Association for Buddhist Studies.


1998 Buddhism in Bath: Adaptation and Authority, Leeds: Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Leeds.

1999 ‘Reincarnation, Experience and the New Age’ in Journal of Contemporary Religion, 14 (1) pp 97-109.

1999 (with Tony Walter) ‘A Very Private Belief: Reincarnation in Contemporary England’ Sociology of Religion, 60 (2), pp187-97.

1999 ‘Who says so? Legitimacy and Authenticity in British Buddhism’ The Scottish Journal of Religious Studies, 20, pp19-36.

2001 (with Tony Walter) ‘Une Sample Coquille: le corps et la réincarnation’ Researches Sociologiques, 32 (2) pp 35-47.

2001 (with Tony Walter) ‘Lives-Long Learning: The Effects of Reincarnation Belief on Everyday Life in England’ Nova Religio, 5 (1).

2001 ‘Representing western Buddhism: a United Kingdom focus’, G. Beckerlegge (ed.) From Sacred Text to Internet, Ashgate/Open University, pp117-160.

2001 ‘Buddhist responses to environmental crisis’, D. Herbert (ed.) Religion and Social Transformation, Ashgate/Open University, pp156-191.

2002 ‘Soka Gakkai as a global religious movement’, J. Wolffe (ed.) Global Religious Movements in Regional Context, Ashgate/Open University, pp109-155.

2002 ‘Insider / Outsider perspectives on ritual in Soka Gakkai International - UK’ in Theorising Faith: The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Ritual, Birmingham: Birmingham University Press.

2002, ‘New Kadampa Tradition’ in J. G. Melton and M. Baumann (eds.) Religions of the World Vol. 3, Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc., p.940.

2003 (with Tony Walter) ‘Reincarnation and the Christian Churches’, Theology January/February.

2005 ‘New Kadampa Tradition’ and ‘after-life beliefs’ in P. B. Clarke, Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements, London: Routledge

Teaching interests

I have worked, briefly, at Bath Spa University, Westminster College, Oxford and the University of Reading. In 1999 I joined the OU's Religious Studies Department taking responsibility for the teaching of Buddhism. I have enjoyed writing for and teaching A217 Introducing religions and its predecessor course A213 World Religions and AD317 Religion Today: tradition modernity and change. I was part of the Course Team for the new Arts Faculty level 1 course: AA100 The Arts Past and Present which was presented for the first time in 2008, and am now working with the team for A150 Voices and Texts. In January 2010 I started a three year secondment in the Bristol regional office.


Reincarnation belief and the Christian churches (2003)
Waterhouse, Helen and Walter, Tony

Lives-Long Learning: The Effects of Reincarnation Belief on Everyday Life in England (2001-10)
Walter, Tony and Waterhouse, Helen
Nova Religio, 5(1) (pp. 85-101)

Une simple coquille: la mort et la reincarnation (2001)
Walter, Tony and Waterhouse, Helen
Recherches Sociologiques, XXXII(2) (pp. 35-47)

Buddhism in Britain: A Brief History (2004)
Waterhouse, Helen
In: Harris, Elizabeth J. and Kauth, Ramona eds. Meeting Buddhists (pp. 53-66)
ISBN : 1 87337223 X | Publisher : Christians Aware | Published : Leicester

Insider/outsider perspectives on ritual in Soka Gakkai International-UK (2002-06-30)
Waterhouse, Helen
In: Stringer, M.D. and Arweck, E. eds. Theorizing faith : the insider/outsider problem in the study of ritual (pp. 57-75)
ISBN : 1902459334 | Publisher : University of Birmingham Press | Published : Birmingham, UK

Soka Gakkai Buddhism as a global religious movement (2002-03)
Waterhouse, Helen
In: Wolffe, John ed. Global Religious Movements in Regional Context. Religion Today: Tradition, Modernity and Change (4) (pp. 109-155)
ISBN : 754608190 | Publisher : Open University Press | Published : Milton Keynes, UK

Representing western Buddhism: a United Kingdom focus (2001-12)
Waterhouse, Helen
In: Beckerlegge, Gwilym ed. From Sacred Text to Internet. Religion today: tradition, modernity and change series (pp. 117-160)
ISBN : 754608166 | Publisher : Ashgate Publishing Company

Buddhist responses to environmental crisis (2001)
Waterhouse, Helen
In: Herbert, David ed. Religion and Social Transformations. Religion Today: Tradition, Modernity and Change (2) (pp. 156-191)
ISBN : 754607453 | Publisher : Ashgate | Published : Aldershot